One of the many things that deteriorate as we age is the health of our skeleton. Having healthy and strong bones is imperative to standing upright, moving freely, and being free of pain. I have so many patients who suffer from chronic pain from their vertebral compression fractures, stooped over, or never quite recover from a hip fracture after a fall.
As we age, we tend to lose minerals and calcium in our bones. Women, especially, after menopause when we lose our protective estrogen, and men as they age and their testosterone declines. But I've seen low bone density in women in their 40's, before menopause, often relating to a poor diet when younger, or taking prednisone.
How do we strengthen our bones?
Everyone thinks the answer is simple - take calcium! But they would be incorrect. As often, the calcium supplement you take is, instead of making it's way to the bones to activate the osteoblasts (bone forming cells), they line your arteries, causing hardening of the arteries. The most commonly sold form of calcium is calcium carbonate, which is very poorly absorbed in the bone. Brand names for calcium carbonate include Maalox TUMS, Rolaids, Caltate 600, Os-Cal 500, and Mylanta. Citrate, lactate or hydroxyapatite are a much better form.
As you can imagine, your arteries are no place for bone cells! You don't want stiff, hard arteries, but flexible ones that allow for easy circulation.
There are critical nutrients needed to increase the calcification of your arteries. These nutrients are vitamin K and D.
Vitamin D deficiency is so common in this area of the country, it's rare when I find a patient with optimal levels. I routinely take 5000 units in the summer, 10,000 units per day in the winter. And to be well absorbed, D should be taken with fat or oil - I take mine with my fish oil - and it should be D3, not D2. The prescription D that is sometimes prescribed at 50,000 units per week, is D2 and not as effective as taking D3. Optimal levels are between 70-90; a minimum of 40 is required for bone health.
Vt D has many other health effects, including boosting the immune system, reducing heart disease, and is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. In one study, researchers looked at patients who had low vt D levels, but no indicators of heart disease. They found that the patients' flow-mediated dilation in their arteries, an indicator of arterial health, improved significantly after just 3 months of monthly injections of 300,000 IU of vt D3.
Vt K is critical to help calcium and phosphorus bind together new bone. It's also important for cardiovascular disease reduction - a study of nearly 5000 showed that those with the highest vt K2 intakes were 57% less likely to die from heart disease over the course of 7-10 years than those in the lowest third.
It's very common for older adults to be deficient in vt K, particularly because our bodies don't store this nutrient. We have to eat it! You can get it in supplement form, but eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, broccoli, kale, spinach, and brussel sprouts.
Also, don't forget the importance of magnesium, boron, B12 and phosphorus for bone health. A deficiency of any one of these can contribute to osteoporosis as well.